by Irvin Muchnick
The media dragnet on Garden City Community College (GCCC) and its former head football coach, Jeff Sims, has come nearly full circle with publication by the Garden City Telegram of its first genuinely full account of the controversy surrounding the August 1, 2018, exertional heat stroke death in Kansas of football player Braeden Bradforth following the team’s first, brutal, summer practice sessions.
Details in the good story yesterday by the Telegram’s Levi Burnfin: “Bradforth’s family still seeking answers,” http://www.gctelegram.com/news/20190304/bradforths-family-still-seeking-answers?platform=hootsuite, are consistent with the drumbeat coverage by Kansas public radio, two Kansas television stations, the Kansas City Star, the Joplin Globe, and the Asbury Park Press — spanning the op-ed and editorial pages as well as the sports and news sections — in a signal that we’ll soon be hearing more on this from even higher-circulated national media than the Press’s own USA Today newspaper network.
I firmly believe that the exposure here of the community college and Sims — now at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin — is potentially criminal as well as civil. Kansas attorney general Derek Schmidt’s decision not to heed the call by a New Jersey state senator, Vin Gopal, for an investigation is unacceptable. So is GCCC’s defiance in not releasing findings from its own purported internal review of the Bradforth death incident, and in its brushoff of state public records act requests by journalists within and without Kansas.
Today I want to focus on one key aspect of the Garden City Telegram article: confirmation for the local readership of multiple allegations not only that Bradforth was denied hydration throughout the fatal practice and conditioning drills on August 1, but also that withholding water was the routine policy and practice of the Broncbusters coaching staff under Sims.
On January 3, I had a lengthy telephone interview with John Green, GCCC’s former athletic director, from his new home in Texas (where he no longer works in the college sports industry). Green professed utter transparency. And it should be noted that he seems to be the only college official who, following Bradforth’s death, so much as reached out in sympathy to his aggrieved mother, Joanne Atkins-Ingram.
What also needs to be said is that Green is a witness of suspect probity. In our conversation, we did not discuss the circumstances of his forced resignation from GCCC on October 1, exactly two months after the football conditioning death — which was at least the 36th at colleges on all levels since 2000. Green departed following widely corroborated reports that he had a GCCC female volleyball player living with him. The extent to which this obliterated rules and regulations, appearance of impropriety, and any compass of adult common sense is immense.
Green’s brazenness in this matter and the Bradforth death are only two of many scandals that have engulfed Garden City Community College, both outside and, especially, inside the athletic department. You can’t follow them without a scorecard, and the even more telling point is that you can’t really figure out where the athletic department ends and the general administration begins at this football-besotted institution. There was also the departure of the head of the cheerleading program, Brice Knapp, amidst charges of sexual misconduct.
GCCC’s current president, Ryan Ruda, previously had been the athletic director who hired football coach Sims. When the Bradforth autopsy, released in November, showed the cause of death to be exertional heat stroke — not, as Sims had misleadingly planted on day one, a heart attack brought on by a blood clot — Ruda announced that one of the “first acts” of his administration was to order an internal administrative review of the episode. Ruda had taken the reins as interim president months earlier. All I can say is that he must have had a pretty slow early workload.
This is the first report of my interview with Green more than two months ago. In subsequent articles, I’ll delve into at least one other important issue relative to his second-hand testimony of events on August 1. For now, I share what Green said to me when I asked him for comment on the allegations that Sims denied Bradforth water during the extreme first-day conditioning drills; and, indeed, denied hydration to all players at practice.
“I never got any complaints about water withheld from student-athletes,” Green said, and went on to suggest that any such complaints now in public circulation must be the skewed grumblings of disgruntled parties.
In what may be a bureaucratic hedge, Green didn’t flat-out deny the charge. So his comprehensive account could turn on a convenient definition of a formal report to the athletic director. That, plus the full body of the testimony, under oath, of eyewitnesses in relation to football practice agua, supplied and not.
Here’s what yesterday’s Garden City Telegram article says:
“At least two players have claimed that the coaching staff denied players water during conditioning drills, and another said water was available but players would be chastised and potentially punished for drinking.
According to an article by KCUR [the public radio report by Sam Zeff], former GCCC player Johnny Jean said that water was withheld from players during the practice. [Kahari] Foy-Walton said the same in an interview with The Telegram.
‘When we first started, I thought they were crazy. I ain’t never been at practice when they said we couldn’t get water,’ Jean told KCUR. ‘During the whole summer, we weren’t allowed to get water during practice, then we started drinking water during fall camp when you start playing games.’
A direct message to Jean seeking further comment was unreturned. Foy-Walton confirmed the players were denied water during workouts and condition, “but it was for the best of us and to make us better and more conditioned,” he said in a Twitter direct message.
[Former player Kirby] Grigsby said that water was not explicitly withheld from players, but if players drank water then the perception was they would be punished for it.
‘Water was available, but if you got water, you were considered done,’ he said. ‘If you got water, it was basically over and you had to do your conditioning all over again the next morning.’”
Does GCCC’s secret “internal review” so much as touch on this critical hydration issue?
The public has no way of knowing.
Because the college refuses to release the report, or even summarize its findings.
DEATH OF BRAEDEN BRADFORTH — CHRONOLOGICAL HEADLINE LINKS